Best practices from innovative leaders about developing digital platforms

By 4 February 2021Blog, Podcast

Best practices from innovative leaders about developing digital platforms

Since we started, we have recorded over 20 episodes of our podcast Innovative Leaders by INFO. We have received guests from all kinds of different sectors and learned a lot about how everybody interprets the term ‘innovative leader’. Here at INFO, we have specialized in business innovation for the past twenty five years and we help both startups and corporates with realizing their innovation goals. But how exactly do we do this?

During this very special episode of our podcast, CEO Remmert Stipdonk will talk to three INFO colleagues. Together, they will listen to clips from previous podcasts and use those to venture off into the wonderful world of designing and developing digital platforms.

The interviewees are Lead Service Designer, Floris Nijdam, UX & Service Designer, Joy Jansen and Solution Architect, Arjan Verus. Among other things, we spoke with them about client requests, roadmaps, post-it-covered whiteboards, co-creations and the importance of the end user’s input.

This podcast is also available on Google PodcastSpotify and Apple Podcast.

 

What the client wants is not always what he needs

First, we would like to know from our colleagues how they start with a new client request. “We listen really well to the request and focus on the why behind it,” Arjan explains. “We’re looking for answers to questions like: what do you already have in place? Is it future proof? Can we build on this? Are we adding to the problem?”

During this phase we always have to pay close attention and read and hear between the lines. It sometimes happens that a client prefers a certain solution but it turns out that that’s not the most effective solution. Floris: “For example, they want us to build them a website, platform or functionality […] and then we take a closer look at whether or not the solution that they have their eye on can maybe be done better or smarter.”

Joy also has her own way of starting projects: “Together [with the client], we dive into the context of a problem and map it out using service design methods. It immediately identifies problems and needs.”

 

Bringing together the right insights

Once the starting phase is concluded and we have found answers to all our questions, it’s time to actually start working, and to start brainstorming, designing and building. This often starts with an ecosystem map in which we visually map out the company. Floris: “A lot of the companies we work for lack these visualizations. […] By putting everything together in an all-inclusive overview, you’ll see that everything will come alive and you’ll discover the gaps.” Joy adds: “Sometimes our role is not so much designing or creating but rather bringing together [the right] people to gain the right insights.”

 

“Sometimes our role is not so much designing or creating but rather bringing together [the right] people to gain the right insights.” 

 

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High over images & roadmaps

And how does the process then move forward? Here at INFO, we like to use the high-over image, which provides us with a bird’s eye view. Arjan: “[Based on the high-over image] we break up our journey into little steps that will eventually lead to our end goal. We will look at what we need, how we will develop (the software delivery process) and what infrastructure we require.” What we do fully depends on whatever comes up during the client interviews, we go in with a blank slate: “Actually, we prefer not to,” says Arjan, “because then you’ll run the risk of ending up exactly where the client already is.”

And how long then before they can start building? That varies “between two weeks to two months. We try to do it as fast as possible and cut the tasks into little pieces. Nobody benefits from a five-year plan, especially since most of the time nothing comes from those,” Floris laughs.

Another method that we like to use is the roadmap. “The roadmap adds a lot of value at the beginning of a project, because it provides insight into all the steps and the goal. It allows you to view everything from a higher level and to see which parts are connected, what you can do together and what should be prioritized. This makes it possible to plan better and to make better decisions. It automatically focuses on what adds the most value,” states Joy.

 

Co creation

The magic word of all our collaborations is ‘co creation’: forming multi-disciplinary teams with the client’s people. These teams then work together intensively to come to a solution. However, the chance that your team comprises all the client’s stakeholders is nil. Then, how do you still involve those other stakeholders? A while back, we spoke about this with Linda Nieuwenhuizen, Senior Manager New Business & Diensten at Centraal Beheer Achmea. Linda revealed that she updates the stakeholders extremely often. Coincidentally, this is exactly what Joy does too when faced with a similar challenge when working for a client. Luckily, it seldom happens because co creation allows her to interact with a lot of other people outside her host team. If this is not the case, she works extra hard to make sure that the stakeholders are constantly updated: “We make sure that all stakeholders are heard and that we let them know that their input is included in the decisions we make about the direction we’re taking with the solution,” she says.

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Choices, choices

During our talk with Managing ‘Meister’ Jorn de Vries with Flitsmeister, he told us that he uses three types of input when choosing new directions or developments: the roadmap, the teams’ requests and the end user’s wishes. Joy confirms the importance of the end user’s input: “End users are an important part of mapping out the problem’s context.” However, sometimes, like with startups, end user data isn’t available. What do you do then? “[If there’s no data available], we work with clickable prototypes or story lines to give the prospective customers an idea of what the new product or service is. […] In general, asking the right questions can bring to light many needs and pain points,” she explains.

 

“End users are an important part of mapping out the problem’s context.” 

 

Local innovation

As always, we also asked our in-house guests about who they deem an innovative leader. Arjan is very impressed with our client, GROWx: “Now, there’s a really future-proof innovation that can add something to society.” Joy chooses 2good2go: “I admire how they are trying to tackle such a global problem locally.” She also has a thought leader that she would like to give a shout out to: Mike Monteiro, a designer who is very concerned with ethics. Floris thinks that when we hear the term ‘innovative’, we immediately think of startups. He feels that we should also mention large corporates that have been innovating for a long time, like ASML, yet another Dutch company. “I think it’s cool that not only their R&D is progressive and among the best in the world but that they’re also flexible enough to roll with the punches of the industry,” he concludes.

Please listen to the podcast here to find out what else our colleagues had to say about their daily work, coming up with new solutions to old problems, speedy releases and a fun anecdote about post-its.

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